Perceptions of Employment Barriers and Solutions (for Newcomers)

Working-age university-educated immigrants experience lower employment rates and earnings than their Canadian-born counterparts, and this gap is only continuing to widen. This report focuses on this gap, by summarizing a study conducted by Malatest that was commissioned under the now-defunct ALLIES project and funded by the Province of Ontario and the Maytree foundation. The study had two main purposes: (1) to explore perceived challenges that highly-educated newcomers face in finding and retaining employment, and (2) to identify the types of supports that would encourage employers to hire newcomers for jobs appropriate for their experience and education.

Evidence for the study was gathered using: interviews with 9 key stakeholders to help with the design of the survey questionnaire; surveys of over 300 newcomers and over 300 employers; 11 focus groups with a total of 70 employers and newcomers; and an “ideation” session with 20 stakeholders representing Malatest’s research team, Maytree/ALLIES, the province of Ontario and the federal government (policy/program advisors), the regulated professions in Ontario, post-secondary institutions, immigrant settlement agencies, and large- and medium-sized businesses.

From the evidence, the authors identified the following key challenges to recruiting highly educated newcomers, as reported by employers and newcomers in differing degrees:

  • Gap in language/communication skills: Almost all employers said this was a barrier to hiring newcomers, while only about a quarter of newcomers themselves felt this way;
  • Lack of Canadian work experience: 64% of newcomers felt this was a barrier, compared to 70% of employers, many of whom equated this shortcoming with immigrants’ lack of understanding of Canadian workplace culture and of soft skills needed to adapt to it;
  • Gap in pre-arrival information: Many newcomers are not prepared to successfully integrate into the labour market owing to a lack of targeted information before they arrive regarding employment expectations and job opportunities;
  • Low usage of recruitment channels: While word-of-mouth and online recruitment sources ranked highest among both employers and newcomers, employers tended to use word-of-mouth and another channel – sector/professional organizations – to a much greater extent, but to use most other channels, especially job/recruitment fairs and immigrant and other employment agencies, to a much lesser degree;
  • Low usage of newcomer supports: Newcomers are underutilizing these resources, which include mentoring programs and social networking training and internships and other work placements, owing to a lack of awareness/familiarity of available supports; and
  • Low usage of employer supports: Two-thirds of employers (68%) said they were not using any of the supports available to them for hiring newcomer talent, with the biggest reason being that most hire from within their own company.

To address these challenges, the researchers advised practitioners in settlement, immigrant-serving and employment agencies to consider doing the following:

  • Ensuring immigrants have the necessary information to prepare them for integration into the Canadian labour market pre-arrival;
  • Taking the lead in helping newcomers develop a settlement plan;
  • Promoting immigration-assistance services to increase newcomers’ usage of them; and
  • Maintaining connections with newcomers post-arrival to ensure constant support.

As for employers, the authors recommended they do the following to increase representation of newcomers in their workplaces:

  • Adopting good practices such as posting jobs on websites frequented by newcomers, using credential equivalency tools, anonymizing résumés to reduce hiring bias, using culturally appropriate interviewing techniques, providing diversity training to staff, mentoring newcomers, and connecting with local community organizations;
  • Ensuring top-down support from senior management; and
  • Establishing reporting mechanisms within the organization that demonstrate their adoption of inclusive practices.

In addition to the above, the authors include a series of recommendations to governments and newcomers themselves to address the challenges faced by highly educated newcomers (see the full report for their suggestions).

This study will be useful to both employers and practitioners interested in helping newcomers enter and remain in jobs that match their credentials and experience.